March 25, 2010


It is absurd to portray M.F. Husain as a martyr and a fearless fighter of artistic freedom

This whole controversy about M.F. Husain, his exile and his citizenship of Qatar has been so convoluted that ordinary Indians are confused. One big reason for this confusion is that the whole debate around M.F. Husain and his paintings has raised so many questions about Hinduism, Islam, tolerance and secularism that simple facts are being ignored. Let me start by pointing out some things our so called liberal journalists and intellectuals are afraid to admit. The fact is: many Hindus have, and will fi nd some of the paintings of M.F. Husain quite offensive. Showing grotesquely nude portraits of Hindu deities is bound to offend many Hindus. And I think, so called intellectuals who call these offended Hindus bigoted and intolerant are actually even more blindly bigoted and intolerant. How can you defend the right of M.F. Husain to offend and deny the equal right of some people to feel offended?

There is yet another valid point that many offended Hindus have raised. And the point cannot be ignored even if it is politically incorrect. What would have been the fate of M.F. Husain if he were a citizen of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia and claimed that he – as an artist – has the intellectual freedom to portray revered historical and mythical figures of Islam in a manner that deeply offends devout Muslims? In fact, the question to be asked is: would M.F. Husain would have invoked artistic freedom and done what Salman Rushdie did when he wrote 'The Satanic Verses'? Let me go further and offend our so called intellectuals: Would M.F. Husain – now that he is a free citizen of Qatar – behave like an iconoclast artist and offend the Muslim citizens of that country? We all know now – at least going by media reports of his love for some finer things of life – that he is not a devout Muslim the way that term is (mis)understood nowadays. We also know what his fate would have been in Saudi Arabia.

So, I personally think it is absurd to portray M.F. Husain as a martyr and a fearless fighter of artistic freedom. He is just about a normally good artist who with the media hype happening at the right time made it big and immediately learnt the tricks of marketing his paintings well. From branding his paintings with help of a recognisable logo i.e. the horse to walking barefeet- he did everything cleverly and rightly. His sense of colors makes his paintings bright but as with most modern art, its hardly much to write home about when compared to the art say for example from the renaissance period, that is really worth emulating. And yet, I think his exile and citizenship is actually a big loss for India. And for the Idea of India.

Let me start with the least important reasons why! For centuries, Hindu temples, monuments and literature have portrayed the erotic as one more manifestation of the so many paths towards spirituality and salvation. The fact is: Konark, Khajuraho, Ajanta and others are proof that eroticism was celebrated by at least a section of Hindus. We revere Lord Krishna and yet celebrate his interaction with the Gopis. In sharp contrast, Islam and Christianity have always been far more puritanical when it comes to their deities. You will not find any temple, scripture, painting or anything that would portray Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed in the manner that Hindus sometimes portray Lord Krishna. To that extent, you can argue that M.F. Husain was merely repeating what many Hindus before him have done.

The second reason I would add is the fact that India claims to be a democracy where people have the right to free speech and artistic expression. This line of thought argues that Indians have the right to offend and that a democracy should be large hearted enough to absorb such provocations. After all, did not B.R. Ambedkar ‘offend’ Hinduism so many times before and after he converted to Buddhism? Was not Periyar of Tamil Nadu, a leader and thinker who delighted in insulting symbols of Hinduism? How about the slogans of Bahujan Samaj Party sometime ago, which went like: “Tilak, Taraazu aur Talwaar; Inko Maro Joote Chaar”? What about the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M. Karunanidhi allegedly insulting Lord Ram during the Sethu Samudram controversy? The logic is: if so many have been ‘insulting’ Hinduism, why single out Husain and target him for the same?

Personally, I would leave such reasons to our so called intellectuals to debate and congratulate each other over their so called commitment to secularism, free speech and democracy. I think the persecution of M.F. Husain and his exile from India are bad for the country because of a more important reason. India has always been the land that gave shelter to the persecuted who sought relief, succour and a place to practice their faith. This has not only saved the ‘refugees’ from death and persecution, it has also enriched India. The best example of this is the history of Parsis in India. India – through ages – has been a land where different ideologies, faiths and creeds have co-existed. More importantly, India has withstood repeated onslaughts to smother this celebration of diversity.

I am again being politically incorrect. But despite the best efforts of Mahmood Ghaznavi who destroyed the Somnath Temple – apart from God knows how many other temples – the temple, and the faith, survive in tact. Despite the best efforts of Christian missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries, the ‘heathen’ Hindus managed to keep faith in their rituals, deities, festivals and celebrations. Please remember: India is the only major nation in the world which has been ruled directly by propagators of Islam and Christianity, yet not succumbed to their lure – either through sword, ideology or bribe. The only other major nations of the world who has retained their ancient spiritual heritage are China and Japan. And the two were never conquered and ruled by ‘outsiders’ the way India was.

That is the India I love so passionately. It is the India that has the capacity and power to absorb all ideas – even if they seem to insult Hinduism. I have heard of people who crave for their deities and prayers in Saudi Arabia because that country simply does not allow you to practice any faith other than Islam. It is just that today’s intellectuals are so cowardly and timid that they fail to highlight this simple fact. I urge all fellow citizens of India to welcome back M.F. Husain with open arms and allow him to paint whatever he wants. He will probably enrich our civilization, than damage it with some childish paintings!




Aj said...

This is the first time i am reading your blog! Really impressed. I strongly agree with u. He should certainly be welcomed back to India! He shouldn't have accepted Qatar's citizenship just because of all this. I wish this issue was raised little earlier... Would have made all the difference.. But ya we just hope for things to change.

Jaiz said...

Bravo bravo sir well aid ....:)

Azad said...

Dear Arindam,
I have been a fan of your writings since a long time now.
Through this article, you have tried to give a balanced perspective. But you have missed a very crucial point.

Yes, a lot of nudity is shown in sculptures of khajuraho. To understand that i must give you a little background on Hindu Philosophy. It would get a bit long, hope you wont mind. In Hindu philosophy, "Kaama" (carnal pleasure) has been accorded an equal place among the 3 other objectives of Human Life i.e. "Dharma"(Righteousness), "Artha"(wealth) and "Moksha"(Freedom from all bondage and suffering).

1. Its a misconception that since Khajuraho is a temple, it depicts sex between deities.

2. It must be emphasized that Khajuraho Temples, do not contain sexual themes inside the Temple premises or near the deity but only on external carvings. Implied meaning of that is for seeing the deity, one must leave his sexual desires outside the Temple.

3. Khajuraho also contains sculptures depicting the day to day life of people of those days. Among these, only 10% of the sculptures depict the sexual life of the people of those days. It is obvious that sex being an inevitable part of human life, is depicted in the sculptures. Sexual themes are not of any deities but related to ordinary humans or at the most celestial beings like courtesans and gandharvas or Apsaras. The rest depict the common man's life of those days. They give the message that one should always have God as the central point in one's life even though one is engaged in worldly activities.

4. All over India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari deities have been shown in Temples as described in the Shastras and in no Temples have idols of Deities been shown nude and in sexual positions!

So, lets not compare Hussain's art (joke) with Khajuraho or konark temples...


Pratik Agrawal said...

Many intellectuals are arguing that M.F. Hussain's exile is against the fundamental right of expression in our constitution. In India, where 81 per cent are Hindus, we are so much tolerant that we still allowing Mr. M.F. Hussain. It is the flexibility of Hinduism not rigidity.
I can understand that Mr. Hussain is pursuing art but why he is again and again depicting nude Hindu's deity. He should also consider the faith of Hindus.

Lipi said...

I completely agree with pratik that It is the flexibility of Hinduism not rigidity that we are still tolerating the filthy expression of art of M.F.Hussain and also allowing it to be compared it with Krishna's association with the Gopis.

Jagdeep-Bhunga said...

this is grt article......i do agree with u.......we r in a democratic country where we have to understand the feelings of others.....sometimes such things are done intentionally.....either all should be punished who violate the social principles or all should be spared.....

vips said...

To some extent I agree with you but what I dislike is the psuedo seculars of this country (most of whom are born hindus). they are jus ruining the culture, the tradition of this country by supporting such MF kind of guys saying that he had done nothing wrong.

priyanka said...

i fully agree to your thoughts....artists like M.F.HUSSAIN should not be treated like this because a great painter like him are rarely born n that to in india.....but as it is some indians specially the political parties choose to do silly things like in the case of M.F.HUSSAIN rather than concentrating in thier work.....if they start thinking about the country so much then it would have been a better place to live.....and yes M.F HUSSAIN shouldnt have accepted qatar's citizenship.

i have been reading your blogs since long time and i always find that your thoughts are related to the commom man you are realy passionate about india.....

hiren makwana said...

hello sir, will please explain me how Dr ambedkar has offended Hinduism, he had done nothing in his life which can hurt Hinduism, but Hindu had done..
he offended by just adopting Buddhism, this which type of thinking..
how we can say his...
He was great leader of India, and no one can elaborate that he had done anything which was wrong or which was he done to get his personal benefits,
he had not done anything just to offend Hinduism.
i think you need to think again for putting his name in this category. very bad
kindly reply me about this if possible on
if you cant then ok..

Hasnain said...

Hi All,
MF Hussain is a great painter but i certainly believe that art should not come at d cost of hurting religious sentiments n belief's...Religion is a matter of Faith n he should have respected d Hindu religion...But i strongly feel MF Hussain was singled out by political parties like RSS,VHP bcoz he's a muslim n attacking a muslim on such issue would strongly strengthen their vote bank politics.

Prafulla said...

Excellent sir . . . . . . .simple and classic one

alok said...

daer sir, a few day ago i seen a documentry in a tv show, you were comenting on reservetion it wasnt proper coment,i have a helthy thesis on reservation basicly indian reservation system in totaly faliur.i hope iwl receiv an e-mail from your end then our chat will be continue....
good byyyyy alok

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Igniting your Inner Core said...

Dear Mr. Chaudhuri, (Need to MEET you)

This is the second piece of ur writing I've gone thru. But I am sorry to say that unlike your earlier high-impact write-up (on the disgrace associated with Slumdog Millonare), your write-up on Hussain was too mellowed down. I guess you tried but really cudn't keep up in allowing d real words in ur heart to be penned down.

As much as I think of Hussain as a piss-headed hypocrite (till he one day dares to show his "artistic" skills on the deities of his own faith), it feels really good that atleast someone "successful" out there (you) has the guts and the brains to express the issues of hypocrisy of the media and system that bother the majority of the Indian population.

In this context I have been long awaiting to meet up with you in person. I've heard that despite your amazing entrepreneurial success, u are a very-down to earth man and open to meeting new people (even if they aren't as successful as you as of now ;) )... I need to discuss something very-very crucial about our Nation with you.

Since I hv no direct medium to contact you, it'd be great if you can someday leave me a mail from your PERSONAL mail id and suggest a suitable time for meeting.

The nation REALLY needs you... hope you'd reply.

DHANU said...

hi sir
i do in a large way agree with u
and u rightly said about is the only country where the 2 opp. poles like yoga and tantra coexisted

and i want to note 1 important point here about hinduism actually it is not a religious faith like other religion but a sanathna darma that is being followed through ages.

Guha Rajan said...

I have couple of pointers.

i) Its better not to hurt any one religious feeling.

ii) Would Qatar given citizenship to M.F Husain, if he is not a muslim or if one had spoken ill of Islam?

somebody said...

I have read avidly, some of yuor ‘blogs’ in the past, and must admit that your candid ways appeal much to me. I believed that you were a visionary, but your short sighted views on M. F. Hussain, have more than slighted me. Although I have secretly admired your provocative style of writing, more so, because we are often on the same plank, I hate to contradict you upon your repulsive viewpoint used to target Hussain and incite many of his ‘intelligent’ followers, against on of the greatest painters that ever lived.

I was not fended off by the nudity. Putting it in simpler terms, one has to look beyond, not at, a painting to understand it. Many people lack that eye of observance, and are often ignorant of the greatness of the artist’s work in front of them. Their shortsightedness and handicapped knowledge of art makes it impossible for such persons to see beyond. They can only look at the physical things in front of them, like the paints on the canvas and the forms they take. They will never be able to transcend to the plane of consciousness, wherein the art becomes tangible.

Igniting your Inner Core said...

This is in reference to the comment posted by the user - "Somebody"

Mr. Somebody, probably you are trying to share a perspective there. But I guess it'd be a good idea if you connect to Hussain and ask him to draw the NUDE painting of YOUR MOM and then share it with all of us out here... that sure shall help all of us understand your perspective better !

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